Serious Measures Call For Serious Consideration
This past November, Virginians went to the polls in unusually high numbers for a year in which there were no state-wide offices at stake. However, there were three matters on every ballot â”€ proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution, all of which passed. Now it is up to the General Assembly to carry out their intent.
One would give local governments the ability to grant real estate tax relief to the elderly and disabled without having to go to the General Assembly for permission. The Senate passed this bill on Monday with an emergency clause. That additional provision will make the law take effect as soon as the bill passes the Senate and House of Delegates and is signed by the Governor.
Another would eliminate the real estate tax for their primary residence for veterans who have a 100 percent, service-connected, permanent and total disability. A bill to grant that exemption is in the Senate Finance Committee, which I am confident will approve it.
Thirdly, voters approved an amendment allowing, but not requiring, the General Assembly to set aside a higher amount of money in the state's savings account, the so-called Rainy Day Fund. On its way to passage is a bill that requires the appropriate state office to report to the legislature what that amount could be.
The smooth path these bills are traveling to carry out the voters' will is in stark contrast to the status of a number of new, proposed amendments. Among them are measures that put the state's Right to Work Law into the state Constitution. Another would put into the Constitution the limits on eminent domain passed two years ago.
Yet another would petition Congress to call a constitutional convention for the sole purpose of considering amending the U. S. Constitution to empower two-thirds of the states to overturn acts of Congress.
These are serious measures that call for serious consideration. We should never amend the Constitution for any reason other than solving a real and present problem. But, by the same token, we should be willing to do so when the situation demands we act.
Several individuals and groups have contacted me over the past week and a half concerning issues with the Virginia Retirement System and how it will be sustained in the future. At this time several members are trying to assemble different ideas and get a thorough understanding of the fiscal impact these different ideas may impose, as well as the effect on the Commonwealth to hire and retain professionals to effectively run and administer the state government. I will try to provide some data in the future concerning this system and where I think the legislature is headed. Right now the Governor also has a recommended program for the retirement system as well.
Not to be separated from the VRS is the implementation of the line-of-duty protections that need to be maintained for first responders at the state level as well as the local level in terms of their exposure to incidents that compromise their ability to continue to work and provide for their families and their future. All of these issues complicate the budget of the Commonwealth as well as local governments. I will endeavor to approach each with a balance of sustainability, prudence and concern.
I look forward to a spirited debate on these and other significant matters. You deserve nothing less.
John C. Watkins